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Volcanic explosive eruptions of the Vesuvio decrease tree-ring growth but not photosynthetic rates in the surrounding forests


Giovanna Battipaglia, WSL Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research, CH-8903 Birmensdorf, Switzerland, tel. +39 0823 274647/ +39 0823 274648, +41 447392392, fax +39 0823 274605, e-mail:,


Volcanic eruptions impact the global and the hemispheric climate, but it is still unknown how and to what degree they force the climate system and in particular the global carbon cycle. In this paper, the relationships between individual eruptions (reconstructed for the past using written records), tree primary productivity (estimated using ring widths), photosynthetic rate and stomatal conductance (assessed by carbon and oxygen isotope data) are investigated, to understand the impact of volcanic eruptions on net primary production. Data from a mixed stand of Fagus sylvatica L. and Acer pseudoplatanus L. located in the area of the Vesuvio volcanic complex (Southern Italy) showed a significant decrease in ring width following each eruption. Isotope analyses indicate a change in climatic conditions after such events. Specifically, the lower oxygen isotope ratio in the tree-ring cellulose strongly suggests an increase in relative humidity and a decrease in temperature, with the latter resulting in a strong limitation to tree-ring growth. The carbon isotope ratio was only moderately but not significantly reduced in the years of volcanic eruption, suggesting no major changes in C fixation rates. This work is a case study on the effects of volcanic eruptions resulting in strong climatic changes on the local scale. This is an opportunity to explore the process and causal relationships between climatic changes and the response of the vegetation. Thus, we propose here a realistic model scenario, from which we can extrapolate to global scales and improve our interpretations of results of global studies.